PHOTO courtesy of the Birmingham News
INDIANOLA — Melvin Pete Jr. knows all about disappointment. He's familiar with it all too well.
"When I played at Jackson State, we lost to Mississippi Valley State two years in a row," said Pete, whose father, Melvin Pete Sr., coached at JSU for 25 years before retiring in the mid 90s. "That's something you just don't do."
The younger Pete also knows what it's like to get to the top of the mountain. The upfront — and often entertaining — coach won the Class 4A state title at Alabama's Central High in 2007.
Now he has plans to duplicate that success in Mississippi after being named the head football coach at Gentry High School.
"I don't know if it's been done before," said Pete, "but I want to be the first coach to win a state title in two states."
The Meridian native, who was raised in Jackson, takes over a program that has now hired its fourth football coach in four years. And that doesn't bother Pete one bit, he said.
"I'm not nervous about that," Pete said. "I'm going to try to bring this community together....(and) get them to rally around their football team."
Pete said he doesn't have any family in the area, but has a history with Gentry High Principal Ricky Taylor. Pete's father coached Taylor during his time at JSU. Plus, principal Taylor, who coached Steve McNair at Alcorn State, was his first quarterbacks coach at Jackson State.
Pete will take over the reigns of a Rams team that finished 3-8 last season and will lose about 20 seniors, including Mississippi State signee Rufus Warren. But, despite those losses, Pete envisions a successful Gentry program.
"The sky is the limit," he said. "I like to dream big.....We're going to start with getting (grades) up and graduating all the players. If I do that, I know we have a better product."
Pete, who said he'll commute from Canton occasionally until he officially takes over the program, got a chance to meet his new players Friday afternoon. He chatted with MSU signee Warren earlier that day.
"I had to see where he was (mentally)," said Pete. "And that way I know where all the rest of the guys are."
Gentry's returning players will immediately join the extensive list of Pete's former players who he refers to as his "kids." Although Pete doesn't have any children of his own, he says his "kids" always keep in touch.
"I have kids all across the country. They call on Christmas and other holidays," Pete said. "One of my oldest kids was 28 when I coached him at Spelman (College)."
Why'd he leave Spelman? "I got fired for scoring too many points," Pete said jokingly.
He said his current task is evaluating players and searching for assistant coaches. So who does the veteran coach have in mind to help him out at Gentry?
"No one's safe but the guy running the pee-wee league," Pete said, followed by his signature laugh.
But there is one person he wish he could get on the sidelines.
Said Pete: "Sometimes I wish I could get my father to come up here and run around the sidelines and tell me what I'm doing wrong,"
That's probably a long shot, but Pete still expects to make a splash at Gentry. Asked what he wants people to remember about him when his time is done: "They'll put a statue of me out there by the stadium," he joked.
"But seriously," he continued," when I leave I want people to say he was a good guy and got the best out of the players."